A Fife clothing manufacturer doubled its workforce and moved to a new factory to create 500,000 gowns for the NHS.
The business behind the popular Keela brand of outdoor clothing has played a crucial part in the ongoing fight against Covid-19.
Ardmel Group now has a workforce to 100 staff and a 10,000 square foot factory in Glenrothes.
‘Need to do our bit’
Sales director Sam Fernando said one of the most positive things to come out of the pandemic was the number of UK firms who dropped everything to help out in the effort against Covid-19 – often at significant cost to themselves.
“We had the overwhelming need to do our bit for the country,” she recalled.
“We have a large emergency-services sector we supply and a fantastic manufacturing team in Scotland.
“This meant we were able to turn our efforts to whatever was needed for hospitals and care homes – such as gowns and masks.
“To ensure we could keep social distancing, we purchased and kitted out a new 10,000 sq ft factory to ensure the manufacturing side was safe.
“We worked closely with the NHS and eventually started manufacturing isolation gowns 100% wholly made in Scotland.
“With fabric coming from Don & Low of Forfar, so far we have made more than 500,000 gowns.”
Sam said helping in the battle against the virus had left its mark on everyone at Ardmel.
She added: “This is a time that we will never forget. There have been challenging days when laughter, smiles and tears have come in equal measure.
“I am so incredibly proud of the team who have been incredibly resilient and proactive to ensure that we have met the many challenges.”
Success after some tough years
There are two main parts to thriving Ardmel Group, which was founded in 1973.
Keela makes a wide range of garments including for outdoor professionals such as rescue teams and the police.
The engineering side of the business is involved in special-purpose automated machine manufacture, seam sealing tapes and adhesive.
The company also has a garment factory in Sri Lanka, which employs more than 1,000 people. It produces items for many brands around the world.
Ardmel is owned by Rube Fernando, Sam’s father. He came to Scotland in the 1960s from Sri Lanka to work for Singers sewing machines. The company then sent him to Strathclyde to do an engineering course.
He realised to succeed in his aspirations, he needed to be his own boss.
“Rube has always been confident in his dream,” Sam said.
“That’s not to say there have not been tough times.
“Back in the early days in the 1980s for more than a year all the directors didn’t take a salary.
“For many years we had the family house as collateral for the banks.
“But hard work and a strong vision has carried us through.
“Even now at 77, Rube is still working hard and he is passionate about UK manufacturing and encouraging a buy-local attitude.”
Staff came in with mops after storm
Sam said Ardmel has managed to stay ahead of competitors over the decades through innovation and hard graft.
His focus has always been on the bigger picture, not just the bottom line.
One of his mottos is ‘a penny in my pocket is better than no pennies at all’.
Sam said there are challenges to Ardmel being based in Scotland, but also benefits.
“Being closer to our main markets would be beneficial but without doubt the biggest plus for us is the people,” she said.
“We have a real mix of fabulous characters working for us. In a big storm last August, our factories badly flooded.
“Staff heard the news and trooped in very early next morning wearing wellies and carrying mops.
“And it’s been like that during the pandemic. People just getting on with it and making it work with a thumbs-up and a positive attitude.”